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    NAA Update: Carol launches an appeal – and an action plan – for North West automotive companies to maximise the youth, diversity and skills of their staff

    I recently attended the UK Manufacturing Summit where Vince Cable commented that due to ageing demographics the bottleneck in the future will be staff. He also commented that engineering is one of the most sought after subject areas at University – but that we need to tackle the gender issue, with only 1 in 10 graduate engineers and 1 in 20 apprenticeships being female.

    It was my first attendance at the UK Manufacturing Summit, held at the Heritage Centre, Gaydon, and the focus for this year was Automotive. There was a full turn-out of ministers from BIS, and as well as the Rt Hon Vince Cable, we were also addressed by the Deputy Prime Minister.

    At the summit I attended two workshops about skills and diversity. The challenge is that if you attend a workshop you are probably already interested in the subject matter, so it’s about preaching to the converted!

    The skills workshop covered all the normal elements that Susan regularly discusses with you, but in addition they had a female manufacturing engineer from Rolls-Royce presenting, the horror story element being that from her engineering degree course at Cambridge University there were only four of them that went into industry as engineers and three years later that had dropped to three – and all three are at Rolls-Royce. There were 40 students on her course, so only 10% ended up as engineers – no wonder we are seeing a shortage of engineers. As an industry we need to do something to ensure that we retain a much higher percentage as active engineers for at least the first five years of their career. A starting point for me would be 50%, but why shouldn’t it be 100%?

    One of our Board Members joked with me the other month that I was part of the brain drain of engineers with my current role, but at least I was employed as an engineer for the previous 35 years! Which brings me onto the next session I attended at the summit, that of diversity; there were very few of us in the room and someone summed it up as indicating the perceived level of importance for the subject.

    I find it difficult to comprehend that just on gender we are missing nearly 50% of the population and then when you include ethnic origin we are losing many more. It’s not about positive discrimination, but about maximising the knowledge base and capabilities of your workforce. As Vince Cable commented on at the SMMT/Semta Apprenticeship Week launch, in the companies he visits the majority have either grey hair or no hair! Therefore we really do need to maximise the youth and enthusiasm of apprentices in our business. So, other than a rant from me, what can we do to improve the situation?

    1. If you have school age children, ensure that they and their friends understand what it is like to work in industry, the variety of roles that exist (not just engineers) and the typical salaries. I know at my son’s school he says everyone wants to be doctors, dentists, accountants or lawyers as they are the people that get paid a lot.  But you can earn similar salaries in industry, but as we don’t share that, how would people know? Also how many people know that Semta undertook a study that showed that the average salary of a graduate in engineering after five years was higher than the average salary of someone in the finance sector?
    2. Ensure that your offspring don’t drop maths and physics. At co-ed state schools there is a very low number of girls taking A-level physics (my notes say zero, but I find that hard to believe); this rules out a huge number of career options in the caring professions as well as engineering and other science-related professions.
    3. Work with your local schools so that they understand the world we live in (see Susan’s article). With the careers support in schools changing, how do “career” teachers get their industry or engineering information? And it isn’t only schools – it’s also important to offer placements and visits to colleges and universities; we need to keep the undergrads interested in their course and show that industry is a good place to work.
    4. Know the average age of your workforce and its make-up and use it to help plan your future.

    I could list more, but this is probably a good starter for 10 and I am sure that I will return to this subject in future issues….

    Incidentally, I had similar observations as the above at an IMechE Automobile Division lecture on the Vauxhall Ampera, given by Ian Allen, Launch Manager for Ampera, when I was one of the youngest at the event, and one of only two women. Having driven an Ampera in November 2011 at the Welsh Automotive Forum Annual Dinner, had the pleasure of owning a Nissan LEAF for a week in November 2012 (including suffering from range anxiety on the day I took it to the office), plus my hybrid truck experience, it was good to see that the word is beginning to spread to a wider audience about low carbon vehicles.

    Carol Holden
    NAA Chief Executive

    European Regional Development Fund Northern Powerhouse
    Partners Department for Business Innovation and Skills Finance Birmingham